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Laconia police chief lays out options to address drug abuse

LACONIA — Police Chief Chris Adams last evening offered the City Council a menu of measures his department would pursue to strengthen efforts to curb drug trafficking and reduce substance abuse, if the department gets more funding.

Adams reminded the councilors they had requested a plan to address what Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) called "the scourge of this community." Instead of a plan, he suggested a number of options, each bearing a different cost, while assuring the council that "we will do as many of these initiatives as we can on our own without additional funding."

With $72,000 Adams said that the department would hire an additional patrol officer as assign a member of the department with the requisite qualifications and experience as a "community outreach coordinator" with sole responsibility for the campaign against drugs. He said that in the first year much of the officer's time would be devoted to developing a "PET" (Prevention, Enforcement, Treatment) program in partnership with treatment agencies, emergency services and community groups. The officer would also serve as liaison to the Recovery Court and, in particular, would identify those among 150 to 200 individuals arrested on drug charges each year best suited to the program and monitor their progress.

The Community Outreach Coordinator, who would be a patrol officer in civilian clothes, would also oversee the department's participation in educational and preventative programs and initiatives undertaken by diverse organizations within the community, including the public schools, as well as "POP" (Problem Oriented Policing) conducted by the department itself.

Alternatively, Adams said, the department could hire a part-time officer or civilian to assume as many of the duties of the full-time position as time would allow. He expected a part-time person would concentrate on working with the Recovery Court and the POP projects. The cost of a part-time person would be $20,000.

The chief told the council that the department's overtime budget was level funded at $100,000, but an additional $30,000 would fund an increased presence of uniformed and undercover officers patrolling designated areas on Friday and Saturday nights. He said that the tactic was introduced this past weekend with two officers each working three hours. Adams said that this option would be strictly an enforcement effort aimed at making the city an inhospitable place for dealers.

Noting that the department is short on up-to-date audio and video surveillance equipment, Adams said that funds could be used to purchase a body wire for use by both police officers and confidential informants, which would cost about $10,000. Other necessary covert audio and video equipment, including a camera fitted with long and low light lenses and surveillance camera for public buildings, would cost another $5,000.

Adams said that the department is taking inventory of surveillance cameras operated by private businesses that are already in place and suggested that with support from the department some of these systems could be enhanced.

Charlie St. Clair, owner of the Laconia Antique Center, which was broken into and robbed last week, urged the council to invest in video surveillance. Echoing Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who suggested video surveillance could be financed with the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds, St. Clair said, "I can't think of a better use for the TIF money."

Finally, Adams proposed the mayor convene a task force, consisting of members drawn from the City Council, Police Department and Lakes Region General Hospital along with a senior from Laconia High School, a city resident and two from the field of prevention and treatment. He applauded the council for giving the drug dealing and substance abuse high priority and suggested a task force would keep the issue on "the front burner."

The council agreed to incorporate the proposals from the Police Department into its discussion of the budget, with a caution from Mayor Ed Engler that any additional funding must be offset by reductions elsewhere in order to budget within the tax cap.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 01:48

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Delegation votes down contract

LACONIA — Emotions on both sides ran high last night, but the vote on the Belknap County Delegation funding the one-year contract for the nursing home went the predictable route with nine members voting against it and seven, including two Republicans, voting for it.

The funding would have appropriated an additional $336,170 for negotiated heath insurance costs, a 1.6 percent cost-of-living raise, and merit increases for eligible employees.

Most of the members of the delegation that voted against the contract were ambivalent about the raises, but dead set against the increased insurance costs. The general consensus was that the provision that allows for a 10 percent savings for health insurance cost should three HealthTrust criteria be met, meant that none of the 80 or so employees had "any skin in the game." By meeting the criteria the premium costs would stay at 5-percent for a single family and 6.5-percent for a two-person or family policy.

"They didn't give up anything," said Meredith Rep. Herb Vadney, noting that all an employee has to do is go on-line and participate in a health screening, a biometric screening, and some health awareness to stay at the same contribution levels as are in the existing "status quo" contract.

"These employees make about $12 per hour," retorted Laconia Democrat Beth Arsenault to yelps of support form the mostly union crowd. "I don't know how much more skin in the game they could have."

After Robert Joseph of New Hampton noted that the nursing home employees covered by the contract make less than those at other county homes and that voters and taxpayers should take care of the people who one day will take care of them, Barbara Howard of Alton said she agreed they work hard, but said it was like blackmail to remind people that they may end up in a nursing home themselves.

Howard thanked Rep. Jane Cormier for speaking about the people who were unemployed or partially employed.

The tone of the meeting was set long before last night's vote. For nearly 18 months, the majority members of the current county delegation and current board of County Commissions have been at each others throats, missing no opportunity on either side to get a dig in where possible.

That the delegation's Republican majority doesn't trust the the commissioners became evident last night when Belmont Rep. Mike Sylvia said that even if the delegation voted to support the $336,000 for the contract, he has no assurances the money would be spent that way.

His statement prompted Commissioner Ed Philpot to reminded the members of the delegation that this is a contract and despite the machinations of the county delegation with the budget, the commissioners are obligated by law to satisfy the terms of all its existing contracts — including this one if it passes.

Worsman, who spent most of the night reminding those in the audience and on the delegation that the commissioners didn't fund two positions established for the Department of Corrections, but spent the money elsewhere, screamed at Philpot to sit down.

"You're out of order," she yelled.

"No," he shouted. "This entire delegation is out of order."

When it finally came down to the vote, Laconia Representative Bob Luther said he had initially intended to vote against the contract because it would add about $50,000 to Laconia's already tax-cap stretched budget but after listening to those in the audience, he had changed his mind.

Ultimately, Luther was one of two Republicans who supported the contract and the only mind who was changed by any of the conversation.

Frank Tilton, also from Laconia, said he would not support funding the contract for the same reason — that Laconia's proposed budget was already near the cap amount and the school district has had to eliminate four positions, giving two employees a pink slip.

When Worsman called for the role-call vote, all the Democrats, plus Luther and Tilton-Sanbornton Rep. Republican Dennis Fields voted yes. The rest voted no.

Laconia representative Don Flanders and Alton Representative Stephen Holmes were not at last night's meeting.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 01:31

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Nursing home employees demonstrate in support of contract

LACONIA — Members of the New Hampshire State Employees Union joined forces yesterday afternoon to support the passage of a one-year contract approved recently by the Belknap County Commissioners.

With the vote by the Belknap County Delegation scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. last night, employees of the Belknap County Nursing Home and their supporters converged at the county offices.

Joining them were state Sen. Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia, some members of the Belknap County Delegation including Republican Dennis Fields of Sanbornton and Tilton, and SEA President Diana Lacey.

"These are good folks and they run a good operation," said Hosmer. "They provide high quality care for our most vulnerable citizens."

Hosmer said the SEA has negotiated in good faith and has show a willingness to compromise.

The delegation has to approve the $336,170 money portion of the contract. The county budget adopted earlier this year level-funded the employee share of the health insurance benefits, but didn't provide any funding for wage increases or associated payroll costs.

Components of the $336,170 are $267,343 for health insurance, $22,361 for cost-of-living increases of 1.6 percent, $35,759 for merit increases for eligible employees of up to 2.1 percent, and $10,705 for associated payroll costs.

As part of the contract, employees agreed to pay an average of 15 percent of their premiums as opposed to 5 percent being paid under the "status quo" contract now in place.

As part of an incentive for keeping a lower premium payment, employees can participate in three of the health management programs in order to keep their premiums at the same level they are now.

By about 4 p.m. nearly 45 people had joined the picket line.

Organizers said they hope to keep people coming until the meeting a 6 p.m. when some of them plan to address the delegation.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:28

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Defense attorney: accused pot grower’s landlord was acting as agent of police

LACONIA — The attorney representing a Governors Island man accused of growing marijuana in the home he rented has asked a Belknap County Superior Court judge for permission to depose the man's landlord.

Corey LaPlante, 28, formerly of 47 Blueberry Hill Road in Gilford, is charged with two counts of manufacturing marijuana, two counts of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute it, and one count of possession of marijuana.

Members of the N.H. State Drug Task force raided the home in October 2013 after learning from LaPlante's landlord that she had seen what she considered evidence of marijuana growing in the home she owned.

In court yesterday, Sisti asked for the court's permission to depose the landlord and if necessary to hold a hearing to determine whether or not she unlawfully entered LaPlante's home.

Sisti argued yesterday that she must have been in the home unlawfully prior to her announced visit because the affidavit prepared by police based on her alleged observations indicated the presence of a water filtration system that she could not have seen from the outside.

The landlord said she had been to the house on the day before her announced visit to assess some landscaping needs prior to her putting the home on the market.

Sisti argued yesterday that she went to the police with information she said she gathered from being outside the home, and the police told her to return to the house and bring someone with her. He argued that made her an agent of the police making her visit to the inside of the home unlawful.

The attorney said he was willing to put LaPlante on the stand to testify that when the landlord called him about the announced visit, he dismantled the water filtration system. So the only way the landlord could have seen it was if she was in his home before the announced visit.

In addition, Sisti said a second police officer called Public Service of New Hampshire and obtained LaPlante's electrical records. He noted that the records were included in the affidavit submitting seeking a warrant for the search meaning neither the police nor the landlord, again acting as an agent of the police, had the legal authority to view his client's electrical records.

"Once it got kicked into motion, there was a subpoena after the fact," he said. "How in the world they got that information is a mystery."

Sisti also asked that the Attorney General's office to make the landlord available for a deposition.

Assistant Attorney General James Vara said the landlord did not enter the house the first day she was there, but reported seeing the water filtration system in the basement from outside the house. He said taking a deposition from the landlord was unnecessary.

As to making the landlord available, Vara said she wasn't included on his witness list and if Sisti wanted to talk to her so badly, he had her contact information. "She's not a witness of ours," Vara said. "We have not obligation to make her available."

Vara said Sisti's argument for the deposition was based on "fluff."

Judge James O'Neill said he would rule on Sisti's deposition request before he would hear any motions to suppress any evidence gathered as a result of her information.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:32

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